A Column of News & Comment by Senator James L. Seward

As one of the hardest hit regions in the nation when it comes to Lyme and tick-borne diseases, the Northeastern United States has been ravaged by these maladies. As a member of the Senate Task Force on Lyme Disease and Tick-borne Diseases, I have worked with my senate colleagues to address these debilitating, sometimes deadly, afflictions.

State funding to help combat Lyme is on the rise. This year alone, the senate successfully secured a record $1 million in the state budget for research, education, and prevention efforts.

In addition, in the wake of recent research showing that ticks may cause mental illness and mood disorders, I co-sponsored legislation directing the state Department of Health and Office of Mental Health to conduct a study on that possible connection. The senate unanimously passed the bill (S.7171) that is the first step in a process that could lead to a better understanding of the incredible impact these diseases can have on the overall health of New Yorkers. The state assembly also adopted the measure and I am hopeful that the governor will sign it into law soon.

Another bill I co-sponsor would serve as a major step forward for treatment of Lyme. Senate bill 6926 would create specific protocol to notify individuals of their diagnoses related to Lyme and other TBDs. The senate bill would require the commissioner of health to work with health care providers to develop a standard protocol and patient notification for the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme and TBDs.

In discussing this issue with individuals who have contracted Lyme and doctors alike, it is clear that diagnosis and treatment plans vary greatly. We need to develop a uniform health care strategy that will increase positive outcomes so people aren’t left guessing if they are infected or if they will be left to struggle with a debilitating disease for the rest of their lives. This new legislation is a step toward ensuring better long-term care. The senate approved the bill unanimously, but the assembly did not consider it. I will continue to push for the measure’s full adoption.

At this time, there is a new danger the state is tracking. The “longhorned tick” (haemaphysalis longicornis), also known as the “bush tick,” has been discovered just outside of our region in Westchester County. This tick is native to East Asian countries and its presence in New York raises public health concerns related to the potential spread of Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases to individuals and companion animals.

The ticks are a serious pest to livestock, wildlife, pets, and humans and can spread diseases to humans and animals. They are particularly dangerous to cattle because they transmit a disease called Theileriosis, which can cause severe anemia or death. Symptoms of tick-borne disease in cattle include fever, lack of appetite, dehydration, weakness and labored breathing. Infected livestock may also experience reduced milk production. With New York ranking third in 2016 in confirmed cases of Lyme disease, and third in 2017 among all states in milk production, these concerns require a more in-depth look since the consequences could affect the state’s agricultural economic interests.

I join in supporting a call from the Senator Sue Serino, chair of the senate task force, for additional research and action from the state regarding this new threat.

A letter sent to New York State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker calls for a study that would determine: the extent the species has spread; the impact the tick could have on people, livestock or companion animals; improvements to the manner and methods of physicians and veterinarians reporting the discovery of this particular tick; and recommendations that would eliminate the longhorned tick from our state.

I will continue to keep you up to date on my continuing efforts. In the meantime, additional information regarding prevention, how to remove a tick, and symptoms is available through the New York State Department of Health website at www.health.ny.gov